On Monday, rather than marking Columbus Day, Santa Fe once more will celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. That’s as expected.
What’s new is that the state of New Mexico is commemorating its first Indigenous Peoples Day, one of three states that made the switch in 2019. This is an important transition, from remembering the “discovery” of a continent that never was lost to honoring the people who were here and whose descendants still inhabit these lands.
Changing the focus from Columbus — an intrepid explorer who nonetheless damaged indigenous peoples by his presence and actions — to the people of the continent also reminds us that civilization did not spring from Europe, but had its own iteration on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Santa Fe declared the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day back in 2016; now some 70 cities and states are part of the movement. This is an acknowledgement of the importance of Native peoples to our region, especially for a city that so closely embraces its European forebears.
Before the Spanish settlers came, we must remember, Indian people were already here. To many present-day Pueblo people, the city is on occupied land, first by the Spanish and later the Americans. That is reality. At the same time, all groups must find a way to live together, acknowledging differences, addressing historic wrongs and perhaps most importantly of all, celebrating common bonds.
And celebrating is what the days ahead are about — honoring the contributions, present and past, of our state’s indigenous peoples. Because in New Mexico, unlike so many parts of the United States, we who live here understand that Native people are our contemporaries, not a drawing in a history book or a caricature representing a sports team.
In New Mexico, there are 23 tribes, nations and pueblos, plus Indians from numerous tribes across the continent, adding to the rich cultural mix that rightly makes Santa Fe unique.
For the next three days, starting Saturday (Oct. 12) and continuing through Monday (Oct. 14), a number of activities will take place on the Santa Fe Plaza celebrating this diversity. Activities begin 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and run through 3:30 p.m., with dancing and singing a large part of the day.
On Monday, the morning blessing takes place at 10 a.m., with dancing, poetry readings and storytelling to follow. At 11 a.m., tribal leaders and Mayor Alan Webber will make remarks — this event, always a feature of Indigenous Peoples Day, can be deeply moving but also a reminder that many “official” leaders, in whatever culture, are male. In some years, hardly a female voice can be heard, something we hope organizers of this year’s event have kept in mind. Leaders, after all, come in all varieties.
In New Mexico, we are proud to say, leaders are indigenous — the election of U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo tribal member, is a prominent reminder of the difference Native voices can make in conversations about important issues of the day.
On Indigenous Peoples Day, we celebrate. But in New Mexico, every day there are moments to remember and honor the people who were here first. And that’s as it should be.